Warning: This post is new age philosophical bullshit, and I am not going to apologize for that. As I’ve done before, you can read only the first two and last two paragraphs to skip my nearly interminable (and nearly nonsensical) ramblings.
One thing that was always hard for me to understand, for a long time, was the angry, often violent reaction of theistic adherents to criticism of their beliefs. Whether it is a core doctrine or a minor verse, often the backlash seems to be wildly out of proportion to the attack; as a writer on the internet, I am familiar with that backlash (oddly, “writer on the Internet” feels as though it is completely adequate to explain why I have been targeted by this backlash). I am not going to blame anyone, I just want to explain what I have learned; unfortunately in hindsight this lesson feels painfully obvious, so if it has occurred to you feel free to skip it.
We all have multiple identities (please forgive me the philosophical leanings of this post), two primary of which are our physical identity and our ideological identity. The physical identity, the identity that people around us see and understand and interact with. The ideological identity is internal, it is a concept of ourselves we have formed in our own minds that contains our thoughts, feelings, ideas, our own perception of our own identity.
For some, these two identities are separate, and I would consider it a mark of emotional maturity to understand them as such. For what seems like the majority (though the study to give concrete numbers would be impossible by definition), these identities are tangled; whether atheist or theist, to attack the ideological identity is to attack the physical identity for the reason that the idea of the world view is used by the person to form their public persona. That bears some degree of explanation or example, as even my rereading it leaves me … Confused, at best.
To speak with many theists (and my experience is mostly with Christians, as a function of where I came from and where I live), the core of their world view is contained within the answer “I am Christian.” To be fair, it does give a very broad idea of what they believe; to speak with a Christian, one can make a vast number of assumptions about their political leanings and views, their understanding of the world, their purpose… These should, however, be tempered by the understanding that there are many levels of Christian, ranging from casual to fundamentalist. When the identities overlap (parts of their physical identity corresponding in a 1:1 relationship with their ideological identity), you have a sort of entanglement that results in damage to one identity being felt by the other.
When I say “I do not believe in the Christian God,” and list my reasons, this is not only blasphemy and apostasy, this is an attack on the ideological identity of some 2.18 billion humans (as per the 2011 Pew research forum on religion and public life). For many, my words pass over them like a gentle gust of wind; it may not always be pleasant, but it does not damage them. To others, it hits them (speaking from a hormonal level) with the same force as a strong punch to the gut. How does the human fight or flight instinct react? More often, when you have been physically attacked (as far as you are concerned), your fight instinct takes over.
The boon and blight of the Internet is that it does not allow for physical altercation, so people who feel assaulted respond in kind; they attack the ideological identity of their attacker. Often, as is the case with me, my ideological identity has no ties to my personal identity; attacks by the theist on my nontheism hurt me as much as the aforementioned gentle gust of wind.
If my body is the representation of my physical identity, and the soul the representation of my ideological identity, then there is a third identity outside of both that I believe is represented by Nature herself. Whether our body and soul are directly entangled or completely separate in our mind, they affect the way we see nature; for myself, an avid seeker of science, truth, and understanding of the nature we live in, nature is a mysterious entity to which we must bend. To an anti-theist, Nature is the avatar that represents god, whether they will admit it or not–it will garner the same reactions, when attacked, as a particularly blasphemous outcry towards a staunch fundamentalist.
Conversely, from a theistic point of view (and particularly from a very fundamentalist theist), nature is a beast of burden, one whose sole purpose is to host them until they achieve their True Nature, that of the soul. To that end, since the ideological identity is formed almost purely out of religion, Nature must be bent to their ideals. To study and understand nature, especially where it conflicts with the Word of God (The Bible), is to build a Neo Tower of Babel, to challenge the ideas of God. To that end, Nature is attacked, bent and bound, to fit the nature of The Bible. It is this attack on Nature that atheists (and, more vehemently, anti-theists) find so reprehensible that they will fall back into their baser instincts and attack with all the direction and thought of a bull who has had his testicles bound by the rope of a cowboy. It is not pretty, but (admittedly) it is certainly entertaining.
I think the way to bring this dialogue to an even playing field, we must understand where our ideological and physical identities tie together and disentangle the mess. When I attempt to use evidence to chip slowly away at the more reprehensible ideals of Christianity (such as the latent homophobia), I do not intend to attack the ideological identity of 2.18 billion Christians; I intend to remove the ugly parts of the soul whose sole purpose is to harm other souls. In order to ever achieve peace, we must recognize the parts of our own identities that inflict pain on others and look (deeply and thoroughly) at them, deciding if they are truly worth fighting over.
I am going to paint a picture, because I know this rant has made next to no sense and is mostly New-Age Bullshit.
Someone whose two primary identities are separate is like a man with a rope; the rope can be changed and shifted, tied into knots and untied, used for one purpose, restored, then used for another. When someone makes a statement that directly addresses your ideological identity, you can modify the rope to fit that idea, and you will not hurt yourself in so doing. If you do not like the way it has modified your identity, you can restore the rope to however you had it before, and move on.
Someone whose identities are tangled is like a man with a rope tied around him, looped and knotted. When someone makes a statement that directly addresses the ideological identity (the rope), pulling on any one thread will cause pain in another area of the body. Like a dog that is cornered, instead of accepting help, they will lash out at anyone who comes near, afraid that the only thing they could bring is pain. If they could disentangle themselves from the rope, we could speak freely, without hurting each other. I do not want to steal the rope and bend it to my will, I just want you to understand that changing the knots in the rope is not always a bad thing, and give you the opportunity to understand the joys of Nature and science as I do, without hurting you. So let’s all get along, body and soul, to forge a better, more peaceful world. Who knows, you may even like it.